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Berlusconi throws flat tax plan into election campaign

January 12, 2018 2:42 PM
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Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi attends a news conference in Rome in this November 25, 2013 file photo. — Reuters picMILAN, Jan 12 — A promise of a flat tax by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi today sparked sharp reactions from opponents ahead of a general election and head-scratching among economists.

Campaigning ahead of a general election on March 4 at the helm of the conservative Forza Italia movement, Berlusconi said on TV late Thursday that such a tax would start at the current minimum rate of 23 per cent, before being brought down to below 20 per cent.

The remarks by Berlusconi — who never sought to introduce a flat tax during his three terms as prime minister — immediately drew criticsm from centre-left former prime minister Matteo Renzi who said he wondered where the money to finance the move would come from.

“The flat tax at 15 per cent would cost €95 billion (RM457 billion), and at 20 per cent €57 billion,” Renzi said today.

A 15-per cent flat tax proposal has been part of the platform of far-right Northern League, allied with Forza Italia, for years.

Its supporters says it would replace the current progressive tax rates which run up to 43 per cent.

Forza Italia parliamentary chief Renato Brunetta called a flat tax “a revolutionary measure that will relaunch the country after the (current) disastrous government is gone”.

Lost tax revenue would be offset by less tax evasion and higher spending power for households, supporters say.

“The crazy people who pay (taxes) now will pay a bit less, and those who don’t pay at all will pay in the future,” Northern League chief Matteo Salvini said.

But Luigi Marattin, an economist and former Renzi aide, called the flat tax “a colossal joke” and “deeply unfair” because it would benefit mostly the wealthy.

Capital Economics analyst Jack Allen, said imposing a flat tax “wouldn’t be quite that simple”, possibly violating the Italian constitution which calls for a progressive tax code.

He also said that any positive impact on economic growth “would be negligible” because the government would have to accompany the tax cuts with spending cuts “to avoid a blow-out in the budget deficit”.

At any rate, Allen said, it was not certain that Italy’s current tax regime is really a constraint on economic performance.


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